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As Federal Hiring Deadline Looms, Chief AI Officers Are in Demand. Here’s Where to Find Yours

Finding the right CAIO requires a blend of strategic foresight and creativity. The talent pool is small, but we’ve ID’d a few avenues to explore.


Google “CAIO” this week and you’ll likely be greeted by highlights of Brazilian UFC fighter Caio Borralho’s crushing one-shot knockout, a stunner that left crowds roaring and enterprise leaders scrolling down, down, further down, to that other kind of CAIO also making headlines: the chief AI officer.

While such security professionals may not throw physical punches, their impact is increasingly critical in the strategic battlegrounds of both the government and private sector. And they’re in greater demand – albeit not that easy to find.

The spotlight on CAIOs intensified last fall when President Biden issued an executive order mandating all 400-odd federal agencies to appoint a CAIO to oversee AI deployment. With that deadline – May 27 – rapidly approaching, agencies are scrambling to fill the post. In recent months, the Departments of Education, Justice (DOJ), Labor, and Treasury, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all hired CAIOs. (Hat tip to head-starters: The Department of Health and Human Services nabbed its first CAIO in 2021; the Department of Defense, 2022; the Department of Homeland Security, last summer.)

Gain visibility to sensitive data at scale and meet regulatory compliance requirements.

Of the recent hires, many were promoted from within, or from within the Beltway. Department of Energy CAIO Helena Fu is a former White House official; U.S. Air Force acting CAIO Chandra Donelson comes from the Pentagon.

And that’s not all. Prodded by the newly formed AI and Tech Talent Task Force and its “AI Talent Surge,” agencies have hired more than 150 AI and AI-enabling professionals and plan to hire hundreds more this summer to pursue critical AI missions, from guiding AI investments to writing policy on the use of AI in government.

That’s a lot of resume tweaking.

“The White House’s executive order on CAIO hiring at federal agencies is yet another sign of how game-changing AI will be for the federal government,” says Tom Billington, CEO of Billington CyberSecurity, a leading summit organizer in the federal sector.

Given the feds’ new focus on AI, the surge in demand for CAIOs was predictable. What’s a little less clear is how much the federal sprint for talent will influence the private sector.

The fed factor and what it means for private enterprise

Big business is usually well ahead of the feds in most tech metrics. But not when it comes to CAIOs. Billington sees the emergence of this new position as “a bellwether sign that the private sector’s hiring will only expand,” he tells Focal Point. Many industry observers are similarly optimistic.

The White House’s executive order on CAIO hiring at federal agencies is yet another sign of how game-changing AI will be for the federal government.

Tom Billington, CEO, Billington CyberSecurity

“Anytime the government gets involved at such a level, mandating the hiring of hundreds of these people, it’s definitely going to spur innovation, definitely going to improve talent development,” says David Mathison, founder of CDO Club, a community of C-suite digital, data, and analytics leaders. Mathison, who gathered CAIOs and other AI experts to discuss the burgeoning role at the world’s first-ever CAIO summit last December in Boston, will host a second summit in Washington, D.C., in June. (See below for more info.)

[Read also: Ultimate guide to AI cybersecurity – benefits, risks, and rewards]

These summits couldn’t come at a better time. As demand for CAIOs increases, CEOs and HR executives are faced with an essential conundrum: how to actually locate job candidates – legitimate, experienced candidates capable of coordinating AI use, managing its risks, and promoting innovations, all while aligning AI tech to business strategy and communicating persuasively with the board.

The talent pool is pretty small so far, Mathison says. And he’s been counting.

The scramble for chief AI officers

Mathison began tracking the CAIO job title in 2021, researching and evaluating LinkedIn profiles in-depth. In 2020, there were some 250 results, and the numbers have been arcing upward ever since, to about 400 (2021), 500 (2022), 600 (2023), and 999 as of this week.

Those companies that start the hiring process soon and get their AI initiatives underway will, a year from now, be well ahead of the competition.

David Mathison, CEO, CDO Club

But the rise is deceiving. “About half of them are garbage,” Mathison says, in an exclusive interview with Focal Point. Those are the folks, he explains, with minimal experience, who work in small mom-and-pop shops or just use the title as clickbait to get recruiters to follow them.

That puts worthy candidates in even greater demand, and amps up pressure on enterprises to start their search today. The typically protracted nature of executive searches means it can often take nine months to a year to go from writing the job description to getting board approval to going to market. “Those companies that start the hiring process soon and get their AI initiatives underway will, a year from now, be well ahead of the competition,” says Mathison.

Where to find the ideal chief AI officer

Finding the right CAIO requires a blend of strategic foresight and creativity. Here are potential avenues to explore, and examples of the kinds of candidates you’ll find there:

  • Academia: Universities, labs, and research institutes are fertile ground for AI thought leadership and innovation.

     Case in point: In February, the DOJ tapped Princeton computer science assistant professor Jonathan Mayer, who boasts a doctorate and a law degree, to oversee their AI efforts, technology capacity-building, and recruitment of AI talent.

  • Company acquisitions: If you’re large enough to consider this option, buying companies with AI expertise is another way to bring seasoned leaders into the fold.

     Case in point: WPP, the London-based advertising and communications conglomerate, bought AI tech company Satalia in 2021 and installed Daniel Hulme, Satalia’s CEO and a renowned AI expert, as WPP’s CAIO. WPP went on to partner with Nvidia to produce commercial content. “My role is to ensure that the leadership of these organizations are sober in terms about how they approach using these technologies,” Hulme told CNBC last summer. “There is a history of getting excited about new technologies like generative AI and essentially wrongly investing in [it].”

The tech changes, the LLM changes, the tools change, but what shouldn’t really change are our values.

Philipp Herzig, chief AI officer, SAP
  • Chief data officers: Many sitting chief data and chief analytics officers (CDOs and CDAOs, respectively) already possess the skills to transition into CAIO roles, with a deep understanding of data analytics and data’s strategic value.

     Case in point: U.S. Treasury Department CAIO Todd Conklin, who in his 14 years working at the agency has served as CDO and CIO (chief information officer). Such executives routinely handle data literacy regulations like the EU’s General Dara Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), notes Mathison. “It’s inevitable we’re going to see these same regulations come about for AI and the same kind of AI literacy is going to be needed throughout an organization,” he says.

[Read also: 3 big business takeaways from Biden’s AI executive order]

  • Internal promotions: Elevating internal candidates can help accelerate an organization’s digital and AI transformation. CAIOs plucked from within are already intimately familiar with an outfit’s AI vision and strategy and can hit the ground running.

     Case in point: Philipp Herzig, who’d already overseen software development, cloud-native apps, and cross-product engineering at SAP when the German multinational software corporation named him CAIO in February. “One important success metric [is] that we’re always sticking and staying true to our values,” Herzig said on last week’s DataFramed podcast, noting how he’s been working within SAP’s AI ethics policy since its establishment in 2018. “The tech changes, the LLM [large language model] changes, the tools change, but what shouldn’t really change are our values.”

  • Fractional models: For start-ups and scale-ups not ready to commit to a full-time CAIO, sharing an AI leader with other entities can provide strategic oversight and direction without the full-time investment or organizational overhaul. On average, a full-time CAIO can cost $378,000 per year, according to Glassdoor estimates, and some will run into six figures.

     Case in point: A recent posting for a fractional CAIO on the job board site Fractional Jobs offered $300 to $700 an hour, with a max of 20 hours per week.

The case for not hiring a chief AI officer

Not everyone is bullish on CAIOs. “Gartner has found that each time there is a disruption, or new era of technology, another C-suite role is not necessarily warranted,” wrote Gartner VP analyst Frances Karamouzis in a recent SiliconANGLE opinion piece. “This is the case with the role of the CAIO.”

Finding a leader with the right mix of technical savvy, credible experience with AI, and the necessary C-suite gravitas may be a near-impossible task. And with the role and nature of AI evolving exponentially, candidates with impressive resumes today may seem outmoded tomorrow.

There’s truth to that, Mathison acknowledges, and the lengthy hiring process only exacerbates the issue. “Look what happened when GenAI came out, right?” he says. “All the goalposts may have changed by the time you get this person on board.”

[Read also: Compliance with the EU’s AI Act starts with knowing your risk level]

Still, expecting someone else already on board – a chief technology officer, say, or CIO – who already has a full plate to then take on oversight of this vast and rapidly changing field may be impractical or worse. Given the built-in bias, hallucinations, and other problems inherent in AI, a misstep with the development or implementation of AI could seriously harm an enterprise’s brand reputation or bottom line.

“That’s why I like the fractional model,” says Mathison, who consults with hiring managers looking to fill open positions. (The CDO Club also maintains a job board for prospective CAIOs here.) There are benefits to be gained from part-time help. By working with multiple clients in varied fields, fractional CAIOs can leverage a diversity of experience their full-timer counterparts may not have.

“It also blurs executive search and consulting at a time when the search takes so long,” he says. It’s a way to try before you buy. And if you like the CAIO, he adds, “there’s no reason you can’t bring ’em from temp to perm.”


For those starting to shop around, consider these upcoming conferences, where enterprise leaders can learn more about AI compliance and chat one-on-one with prospective CAIO candidates.

  • Chief AI Officer Summit The CDO Club’s second annual CAIO summit will be held June 12 (a day after its CDAO Summit) in Washington, D.C. Speakers will include the U.S. Treasury Department’s deputy CAIO, Brian Peretti; chief strategy officer of DOD’s algorithmic warfare directorate, Jinyoung Englund; and CAIOs from Avanade, Fox Rothschild, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, among others.
  • Billington CyberSecurity Summit A leading summit in the federal sector, the 15th annual event will be held Sept. 3-6 in Washington, D.C. This year’s theme: Advancing Cybersecurity in an AI Age. The gathering includes an entire day devoted to AI and a three-day breakout track on AI and its impact on cybersecurity.

Joseph V. Amodio

Joseph V. Amodio is a veteran journalist, television writer, and the Editor-in-Chief of Focal Point. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Men's Health, Newsday, Los Angeles Times,, and, and has been syndicated in publications around the world. His docudramas have aired on Netflix, Discovery, A&E, and other outlets. He also produces Tanium’s new Let’s Converge podcast—listen here.

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